It’s a phrase you may have already seen. I’m sure you were pretty confused when you heard it.
The idea is based off the old idea of “synthetic oil,” which actually began on a large scale with the Nazi’s. Yes, the German Nazi’s with an abundance of coal from the Rühr region wanted to convert it to oil for their vehicles (remember the versatility of oil compared to coal) so they could keep up with important orders of business like invading countries. Anyway, the process is quite basic, and involves coal being sprayed with a catalyst, burned in a massive furnace, and finally having a resultant gas come out at the other end. Same idea as with all fuels: the junk gets separated from the valuable stuff. Unfortunately, the process was simply too costly and made no economic sense.
The idea bounced popped up again in the 80’s when an ill-fated plant in North Dakota was operated briefly by a Yale economist and former White House official named Paul MacAvoy. The problem was selling the product, and maintaining that price through swings in oil and gas prices.
Finally, a group of Boston entrepreneurs with no relevance to the coal industry dug up some of the scientific papers from American scientists that had worked on the last round of synthetic gas plants. They were able to coerce the scientists out of retirement to get them working on a way to make the process economical.
The three Bostonians now claim they can produce natural gas from coal for a lower price than conventional drilling methods. The process even involves carbon sequestration using conventional air chilling technology, and the resulting CO2 is pumped into the ground. The methane as natural gas that results is 99.5% pure.
The process is considered clean because all of the particulate matter is removed in the making of the gas. The carbon sequestration is an extra step, but it should be included if the whole process can be done for less than the cost of the cheapest alternatives in the industry.
Very interesting breakdown that helps one understand the dominance of various sources of energy for electricity consumption.
-Examine the importance of coal in the Appalachian region and how much of our nation’s emissions come from this region. It seems to me that we should clearly be supporting natural gas development in this region, not deriding it through “anti-fracking” campaigns. This is a time when natural gas is one of the only sources of energy that can truly compete against dirt-cheap coal energy. We should be developing our natural gas infrastructure exponentially. As quoted from Jeff McMahon in the Forbes article, “4 Reasons Coal Declines Even as Natural Gas Prices Rise: EIA:”
“While price remains the primary factor in the short-term race between gas and coal, four other factors help gas displace coal in the long term, according to EIA:
Efficiency: The efficiency of power generation from gas means it competes with coal even when it costs 1.5 times as much. “When the ratio of natural gas prices to coal prices is approximately 1.5 or lower, a typical natural gas-fired combined-cycle plant has lower generating costs than a typical coal-fired plant.”
Competitiveness: “For new builds, natural gas and renewables generally are more competitive than coal.”
Flexibility: “In general, combined-cycle (gas) units are considered to be more flexible than steam turbines. They can ramp their output up and down more easily, and their start-up and shutdown procedures involve less time and expense.”
Regulation: “The interaction of fuel prices and environmental rules is a key factor in coal plant retirements. AEO2013 assumes that all coal-fired plants have flue gas desulfurization equipment (scrubbers) or dry sorbent injection systems installed by 2016 to comply with the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards. Higher coal prices, lower wholesale electricity prices (often tied to natural gas prices), and reduced use may make investment in such equipment uneconomical in some cases, resulting in plant retirements.””